Using a DIY salt tray is a fun way for preschoolers to practice their early-writing skills. Just fill a tray with salt and provide an instrument for your child to make marks in the salt with. A salt tray engages the senses, and is an exciting way for kids to learn how to letters, numbers and spell their name.
This DIY salt tray can be made in minutes at home, for kids of all ages to practice pre-writing, spelling and math skills.
- Toddlers can practice mark-making, which helps to prepare them for printing one day.
- Preschoolers can practice number and letter formation, writing their name, and drawing pictures in the salt.
- Grade school kids can practice printing sight words, and simple math in the salt tray.
So Easy to Make!
I finally made our first salt tray the other day for my daycare hooligans. It was so simple, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t made one sooner.
I poured a cup or so of table salt into a styrofoam produce tray, paired it with a paintbrush and called the preschooler over.
She climbed up to the table, eager to see what this new activity was all about. Without saying a word, I simply wrote her name in the salt with the end of the paintbrush.
Her face lit up as she read her name out loud. Then I shook the tray gently and she watched, fascinated, as the letters of her name disappeared.
She was hooked!
Why a salt tray?
Kids love sensory activities, ; activities that appeal to their sense of touch, sight, sound… And studies have proven that our capability to learn and retain information increases when multiple senses are engaged.
A salt tray does just that. The salt looks and feels interesting, and makes such a wonderful sound as your child scrapes through it with a paintbrush or a finger.
Letters, Numbers, Math and Doodles
What better way for your child to learn and practice letter and number formation or to practice writing his or her name? Your child can also doodle and draw on a salt tray, and anytime they want to start over, they just give the tray a shake. Voila… a smooth, clean surface of salt to write in again.
This wasn’t our first time using salt for a letter-learning activity, but was our first time using an actual salt tray. It was a such a lovely experience!
Seeing our drawings appear in the salt, and listening to the soft, scratchy sound it made was relaxing and therapeutic.
My preschooler played with our salt tray off and on all afternoon. It’s definitely an activity that we’ll turn to again and again.
How to Make a Salt Tray
- a tray -a baking sheet, serving tray, styrofoam produce tray etc.
- an instrument for writing – end of a pencil or paintbrush, a chopstick or craft stick etc.
Making and Using your Salt Tray
For our tray, we started with a small styrofoam produce tray from the grocery store.
Note: always run your styrofoam trays through the dishwasher before using them for crafts and activities. This will ensure they are sterilized.
To contain spills, I set the produce tray on top of a baking sheet, and I provided a paintbrush for writing and drawing with.
After drawing and writing in the salt tray for a good, long time, my hooligan asked if she could add some colour to the salt tray. This was because earlier in the day, we’d been dripping food colouring onto a tray of baking soda for this fizzing colour experiment.
The food colouring from that experiment was still sitting on the kitchen counter, so I grabbed the blue and the red, and dripped them all over our salt tray.
We tried using the ends of our paintbrushes to mash the colour into the salt, but that was a slow process, so I suggested that my hooligan just use her hands to mix it all up.
She LOVES getting her hands messy so she jumped at that invitation. She pressed her hands into the salt and she squished and squeezed and mixed until the colours were blended well into the salt.
Then, so she would have a larger surface for drawing and writing on, we dumped the salt from the styrofoam tray onto the big baking sheet.
Our larger tray required a little more salt, so she added some, and stirred it all in to the coloured salt.
How Much Salt do you Need for a Salt Tray?
A salt tray doesn’t require much salt. A thin layer spread over your tray is enough.
A Dark or Coloured Tray is Best
A dark tray works best because you’ll really be able to see the letters that you write. Deborah from Teach Preschool often puts coloured construction paper at the bottom of her salt trays to add interest. You can see Deborah’s colourful salt trays here.
The large surface of the baking sheet was great for drawing big pictures on and it provided lots of room for letter practice.
Your child can practice writing her name or any other letters she knows.
Another thing you could do (we did it, but I didn’t take pictures), is YOU can print several letters or numbers in the top half of the tray and have your child copy them on the bottom half.
And of course, your salt tray activity can simply be used for making art.
Shake to Erase
Once your picture or writing is finished, just give the tray a shake to “erase” your work and start again.
Or, if your child loves a good sensory experience like this little one does, hands can be used to clear the tray as well. 😉
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More pre-writing activities for kids:
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Jackie is a mom, wife, home daycare provider, and the creative spirit behind Happy Hooligans. She specializes in kids’ crafts and activities, easy recipes, and parenting. In 1997, Jackie stepped out of the corporate world to start a family and to open her own home daycare. She began blogging in 2011, and today, Happy Hooligans inspires more than 2 million parents, caregivers and Early Years Professionals all over the globe.